Have you ever heard of “The Best Page in the Universe?” If your answer is no, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Until yesterday, I didn’t know that this page existed. What drew me to the page was a video that I stumbled across titled, “I hate BuzzFeed.” At first, this title disturbed me. I love BuzzFeed, so how could anyone hate such a comical website? But I was intrigued, so I went to the website and watched the video, which is posted below:
After watching the video I was both shocked and awed. I could not understand how a site that I frequented almost as much as Facebook was breaking so many laws. I didn’t want to think that anything Maddox, the owner of the site, claimed was true, because let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to believe an article that explained why Wegmans was the best grocery store in the world (it is). But I saw some validity to his statements, especially after our “Social Media and Law” talk by Kabrina Chang.
So, reluctantly, I looked further in to Maddox’s claims.
The underlying point of Maddox’s entire argument against BuzzFeed is this idea of “Fair Use.” According to the United States Copyright Office, there are certain provisions that allow for the reproduction of a copyright without the copyright infringer having to pay a fee to the owner. In determining whether a copyright is being used with fair use, the courts must consider the following factors:
- The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
- The nature of the copyrighted work
- The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
- The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work
Maddox, Fair Use, and BuzzFeed
In the video above, Maddox states that BuzzFeed is operating under the assumption that what they are doing falls in to these criteria. Maddox lists the following conditions as examples of a copyright being used under fair use:
- Excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment.
- Quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification.
- Use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied.
- Summary of an address or article, with brief quotation, in a news report.
Maddox stresses that in order for a copyright to be used under fair use, it’s use must be an authentic form of expression and have an editorial point of view, which he asserts BuzzFeed isn’t doing. He gives the example of how authors write articles without claiming them, or citing any expertise they may have on the subject. Instead of saying “25 Reasons why Rachel Fagut thinks that Wegmans is the Best Grocery Store Ever,” authors list the articles as “25 Reasons why Wegmans is the Best Grocery Store Ever.” Due to this, any many other reasons, Maddox concludes that the articles and sources on BuzzFeed cannot be claimed as Fair Use.
What Maddox Got Wrong
After doing some digging, I discovered a site that disproved one of the statements that Maddox makes about BuzzFeed. The Atlantic Wire found that the statement below was false:
These articles are designed to mine clicks from a specific demographic so BuzzFeed can use these metrics to sell sponsored content to regional advertisers. Nobody at BuzzFeed gives a shit about you, Michigan State University, or the problems Hawaiians are suffering from. You’re a pawn. They’re using you for clicks to sell you to the highest bidder.
They discovered that BuzzFeed does not run advertisements on their site, and the sponsors that they do have are normally major brands, not regional ones. So, just because an article is called “25 ways that you can tell your are a Boston College Student,” doesn’t necessarily mean that Boston College is sponsoring the content you are reading.
What this Means for Managers
- In my opinion, if you have the capital to hire fact-checkers and content creators, you probably should, because if you don’t, the public will do it for you.
- Sources, sources, sources. If sources aren’t cited, than the public may become skeptical of the content that you are posting.
- Claim your own content. There is absolutely no reason for an author to not claim their own content. By not claiming it, you become vulnerable to scrutiny.
In summary, don’t give the public a reason to be distrustful of the content that you are creating.
Questions for the Readers
- Has your opinion of BuzzFeed changed at all since reading this/watching Maddox’s video? Will you continue to read it?
- What do you think that BuzzFeed can do to protect themselves from a possible copyright infringement suit?
I plan to continue reading the articles, as I like to be “persuaded of things that I already know.”